An Odd Holiday: Boxing Day

There’s probably no holiday on the calendar more misunderstood—or more obscure—than Boxing Day, December 26. None of the responses we got by asking around are the least bit accurate; it doesn’t have anything to do with cable TV marathons of Rocky.

Here are a few theories about the holiday’s origins and meaning.

Theory #1: British aristocrats rewarded their servants with boxed holiday leftovers and small gifts on December 26, the day after Christmas.

Theory #2: British estate lords handed out sundries and supplies to their staff on. December 26, which they carried home in boxes.

Theory #3: Boxing Day was the day when Europeans traditionally boxed up their unwanted presents and exchanged them at stores.

Theory #4: It’s called Boxing Day because people spend the day getting rid of their empty Xmas boxes.

Theory #5: Churches in England had “alms boxes,” where parishioners would donate money for the poor. On the 26th, clergy would distribute the contents of the boxes.

Theory #6: Special boxes were kept on ships during long voyages. Sailors placed donations in the boxes to help reimburse a priest who was supposedly praying for their safe return.

Theory #7: (and the one most likely to be true): Dating back to 18th-century England, where it’s also known as Saint Stephen’s Day, the upper classes spent the day doling out cash to the poor. Servants carried ceramic boxes to work on the 26th, and their employers would fill them with money, then smash them later like a piggy bank.

Despite the major British influence in the U.S., Boxing Day never caught on here. But it did in other British colonies.

• In Ireland, it’s called Wren Day. Celebrants go caroling or participate in parades, dressed as birds.

• In Wales, one of the traditions is to beat late-risers with holly branches.

• In Australia, it’s a huge shopping day (comparable to Black Friday in the U.S.). There’s also a big cricket match.

While there are a few really old carols, there aren’t a lot of modern-day Boxing Day songs. Rock band Blink 182 did come up with a tune about the holiday though, which they released just a few days ago.